The Aug. 28 Phillies game will mark the 10th annual Gay Community Night, an event that has transformed from an organizational outing to a citywide LGBT celebration that draws sell-out crowds each year.
The first LGBT night was started as a venture by the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
“We were thinking of a joint summer event for our members and as we discussed it we realized, why limit it to just our groups? We decided to open it up to the whole community,” said Larry Felzer, lead organizer of the event.
The organizations approached the Phillies to inquire about launching an LGBT-themed night, modeled after similar events that had been staged in Chicago and Atlanta, and Felzer said the ball club supported he concept.
Felzer said the event has continued to be well-received by the Phillies each year, despite a hiccup a few years back in which protestors were permitted into the stadium with anti-LGBT banners.
The club later revised its signage policy to prohibit discriminatory messages within the stadium.
When the event first started, the Phillies were playing at Veterans Stadium, which has since been demolished, with games now played at Citizens Bank Park.
One of the other major changes in the last decade has been the overall appeal of the Phillies, Felzer said, which has fueled ticket demand for Gay Community Night.
“A lot of excitement has built around the Phillies in the past few years,” Felzer said. “They’ve been doing so well and selling out all of their games so quickly that even season-ticket holders are on a waiting list. They could’ve cut the number of tickets available to groups like us, but I’m very happy that they haven’t.”
Last year, organizers of Gay Community Night bought a block of 850 seats, which sold out more than a month in advance.
Felzer said the opportunity for LGBTs to attend the game in unison has been one of the event’s greatest benefits.
“People have asked me over the years why we need to have this specific Gay Community Night, and I tell them that gay people are at Phillies games every single day, but this is the one and only time of the year where we can all sit together as a community and have fun together,” he said.
While the event was created as a social outlet, it may have also had some educational byproducts.
Felzer said one year he heard a caller on a sports-radio show the day after Gay Community Night describing the anti-LGBT protest he witnessed at the game.
“He had gone to the game with his son and said he saw the protestors and didn’t know where the gay people were but knew they were there just to enjoy the game. The protestors were the ones who were in his face,” Felzer said. “We in the LGBT community are so used to seeing protestors that we forget other people aren’t used to seeing this bigotry and hatred the way we do. So having others witness this was really eye-opening.”
It has also helped to break down barriers between the LGBT and sports communities.
“This hasn’t been organized as an event to increase LGBT visibility in sports, but one thing I really like about this is it helps break stereotypes that gays not only don’t play sports, but also aren’t interested in sports,” Felzer said.
A portion of sales from each ticket sold for Gay Community Night in the past few years has gone to support the Sean Halpin Memorial Scholarship Fund for LGBT law students, with about $6,000 being generated so far.
The Phillies will face off against the Mets at 7:05 p.m. Aug. 28.
Gay Community Night guests are advised to be seated by 6:40 p.m. Felzer will throw out the first pitch of the game this year, in honor of the 10th anniversary, and the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, celebrating its own 30th anniversary, will sing the national anthem.
Felzer strongly recommends purchasing tickets early. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.phillygaydays.com.
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.